WLHS grad spent four weeks in Kenyan orphanages

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Marleigh van Alderwerelt of West Linn poses with children in Kenya, where she volunteered at the Kenyan orphanage Riziki Children's Home.Marleigh van Alderwerelt walked past the Gioto garbage slum every day on her way to the orphanage in Kenya. The experience, during her month-long volunteer efforts in Africa, was something she will never forget.

“The most heartbreaking part of the whole trip was seeing the slums,” van Alderwerelt, 19, said. “It’s so hard to understand that this is a life system and they can’t get out. It’s a never-ending cycling of crime and violence.”

Van Alderwerelt is a 2011 graduate of West Linn High School. The sophomore at University of Denver spent four weeks volunteering in two different Kenyan orphanages through the global aid organization International Volunteer HQ.

She said her humanitarian efforts were fueled by her family’s love of travel and philanthropy. Although she spent a year studying abroad in the Netherlands when she was 16 and has plans to study abroad in college, she longed to volunteer.

“I really wanted to do something for myself. Going to Africa had been on my list for a very long time. It just has this mysterious feel to it.”

She spent about a year researching international aid organizations and reading volunteer testimonials before committing to IVHQ. She chose the organization because it was within her budget — she spent about $700 not including airfare — and it gave her the opportunity to work with children.

“I’ve always loved kids, and I’ve spent my fair share of time babysitting in high school,” she said. “Choosing to volunteer with an orphanage was an easy decision.”

Van Alderwerelt purchased her ticket in July and endured the 20-hour flight to Nakuru, Kenya, about two hours west of Nairobi, on Nov. 29. She experienced culture shock, or what she refers to as an “oh, this is Africa moment,” on the drive from the airport to meet her host family — a Kenyan pastor and his wife.

“Driving in Africa is just what you’d expect,” she said. “There are lions on the road and no streetlights at night. I remember being exhausted after 20 hours of flight but still feeling wide awake.”

After a brief orientation, she was placed into an outreach program with other IVHQ volunteers. It was there she visited three slums. First she visited the KCC Slum Project — an international nongovernmental organization that works with slum children. Then she visited an internal displacement monitoring camp — a cloth shanty town for political, economical and violence refugees. Lastly, she visited the Gioto garbage slum — a giant mound of garbage and official dump site for the city where approximately 600 Kenyans live.

After the slum tours she was placed at an orphanage called Riziki Children’s Home. The orphanage housed about 17 children ages 8 to 15 who had been removed from their homes because their parents or caretakers were deceased or terminally ill. Some of the children, van Alderwerelt said, came from the slums.

“These kids were taken in because they showed the most need,” she said. “Yet one of the most surprising things is that these kids have the best attitude and are incredibly intelligent.”

For two weeks van Alderwerelt taught the children basic science, helped with their English and taught them about her home in the United States. After two weeks, she was transferred to New Life Home Trust, an orphanage that has several centers throughout Kenya that specialize in international infant adoption. The orphanage housed about 14 children, mostly toddlers, under the age of 5.

“These babies were left in hospitals, police stations and trash cans,” van Alderwerelt said. “When I spoke with the director, she said, ‘We never know when we are going to get another kid.’ ”

Van Alderwerelt described her work at the infant orphanage as trying. She helped get the children ready for the day, played with them, fed them, played with them some more and laid them down for naps. After a total of four weeks, her volunteer efforts in Kenya were complete.

She said the most rewarding aspect of her trip was working with the children. Although she is currently studying criminology and psychology in college, she’s considering studying social work so she can continue working with children. She said volunteering will still be part of her future. Most of all, she encourages others to volunteer.

“I’m 19; this was the first time I’ve been out on my own in the world,” van Alderwerelt said. “Volunteering is something anyone can do. I think a lot of people are just waiting for that push. So, just do it. Even if things are hard, and they will be hard, you can’t regret something like this.

“You are giving your life up for a few weeks or months, but what other people are getting out of it is so much more than the few weeks you are away from home. And what you are going to get out of the experience is more than you will ever understand.”

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO  - Marleigh van Alderwerelt of West Linn poses with children during a volunteer stint in Kenya. Van Alderwerelt spent four weeks volunteering in Kenyan orphanages during a break from the University of Denver.

Volunteer with IVHQ

International Volunteer HQ was founded in 2007 with the aim of making volunteering possible through affordable, safe and high-quality projects in developing countries. Since 2007, the organization has sent more than 19,000 volunteers abroad.

The organization works in 18 different countries, in coordination with partner indigenous organizations, on hundreds of projects throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America and sends more than 4,000 volunteers abroad annually.

Volunteers assist developing countries by working in a variety of jobs such as teaching, medical work, HIV/AIDS awareness, women empowerment, sports education, construction work, conservation work, panda conservation, surf and swim school, agricultural work and orphanage assistance. Volunteers can choose to work on projects for various periods of time ranging from one week to six months.

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